Single-core processors are going the way of the dinosaur, and dual-core processors are all around us, but today’s powerhouses run quad-core. Some chips even throw in a low-powered fifth-core just for good measure.

Just days ago NVIDIA announced the Tegra 4, which outclassed everything else, hands down. That victory was short-lived as Qualcomm introduced us to their new Snapdragon 800. Both new product offerings come in quad-core (or fifth-core) configurations. Not to be left out, Stephen Woo (the president of Samsung’s System LSI division) dropped a bomb on the SoC world shortly thereafter.

During Woo’s keynote address at CES 2013 we learned of Samsung’s response to NVIDIA and Qualcomm. It’s called the Exynos 5 Octa and will offer a “level of pure processing power never before seen in a mobile device”. How will it do that? By packing eight (yes, eight!) cores inside their chip! Doing so will enable “heavy-duty multi-tasking” on your mobile devices. In addition to making all of your daily activities faster and smoother, an Octa-powered smartphone, tablet, or other device will be able to “easily” handle HD movie streaming with “razor-sharp picture quality” and “no dropped frames”.

An eight-core processor should come as no surprise. The more apps you’re running at the same time, the more instruction threads you’re running. These threads can be easily spread across cores. When you think about running one app at a time, but still being able to run background tasks and quickly switch between apps, adding more cores isn’t tremendously helpful at speeding things up. We’ve seen this when benchmarking dual-core devices against quad-core devices — without a significant jump in performance.

However, when you’re running two apps on the screen at the same time, that’s where more cores can really shine. Who is it that included running two apps simultaneously on their phablets and tablets? Oh! Right! That would be Samsung.

“The bottom line is, when you want multiple applications to perform at their best, you want the best processor available,” Woo said.

Many may jump right to the counter-point: more cores means more energy needed to run them. To combat that the Octa leverages ARM’s big.LITTLE technology and pairs a very energy-efficient 1.2GHz ARM Cortex-A7 chip beside the significantly more powerful 1.8 GHz Cortex A-15 multi-core chip. Using this approach, Woo claims we should see a 70% improvement in battery life.

We’re very excited about the new processor offerings that we’ll begin to see later this year. Which will end up as the best SoC around will be an interesting race to follow. Make sure you’ve got bookmarked to learn more about these powerhouses as we start seeing them in real-world devices!

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